Archive for the ‘English - general issues’ Category

Reel experience in language learning

Monday, August 13th, 2018

LANGUAGE learning need not be a classic case of boring chalk-and-talk and grammar exercises.

Star Media Group’s latest language initiative, English for Better Opportunities (EBO), is set to make learning English an engaging and enjoyable experience for all.

With the success of Star Media Group’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) programme, now in its 21st year, the media company is widening its English language programmes through a host of activities that include holiday camps, outdoor challenges, confidence building workshops, theatre workshops, as well as a junior movie club.

The EBO project is a multi-level platform aimed at making immersive driven English language programmes interactive, fun and accessible to all.


Joining in on the effort is Golden Screen Cinemas Sdn Bhd. As part of creating and delivering enriching cinema experiences to its customers, the country’s leading cinema operator is partnering with Star Media Group to host three special screenings at its 16-screen GSC Paradigm JB multiplex. The three movies – Christopher Robin, Goosebumps: Haunted Halloween, and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald — will be held in August, October and November respectively, and will be preceded by language activities and quizzes.

The movies which are all book-based, will lend its power of visual stimulation to the spirit of the story.

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Proposal for weekly BM, English days in all schools

Monday, July 16th, 2018

Johor: Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik proposes that schools should have two days in a week where only Bahasa Malaysia or English is used to help students improve their language skills.

Maszlee said this practice should be extended to national schools, private schools, government-aided schools or national-type schools by selecting a specific day of the week, namely one day for each language.

Students and teachers will have to use that one language the whole day at school and must include Malay literature, it is very important to uphold the national language.

“In celebrating diversity and the new era, students should also be encouraged to take up a third or fourth language,” he said.

He said this when officiating the “Sireh Pulang ke Gagang” event at Sekolah Kebangsaan Temenggong Abdul Rahman 2 (STAR2), here, Saturday.

Maszlee, a former STAR2 student from 1981 to 1986, said the proposal would be discussed with relevant parties.

At the same time, he wants teachers who are not proud of teaching in primary schools preferring to teach in secondary schools to rid themselves of the misconception.

“In Finland, the world’s number one provider of quality education, the best teachers are sent to primary schools to mould the personal development of their pupils and develop their language skills from an early stage.

“Today, teachers do not want to teach in primary schools, all want to go to secondary schools, especially teachers who have degrees,” he said.

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Focus on English at all levels

Monday, June 25th, 2018
File pix) Focus on English language should be given at all levels of education. Archive image for illustration purposes only. Pix by Nik Hariff Hassan

ANEW wave of emphasising English as the medium of instructi(on and communication is back.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad recently announced the introduction of English competency tests for civil servants. This is to ensure civil servants, especially high-ranking ones, can present themselves well during meetings with international partners. Dr Mahathir also promised to review the education system from kindergarten to university level.

I am delighted that attention is given to all educational levels in Malaysia. As a lecturer in a public university, I have to agree our undergraduates have a poor command of the English language.

This jeopardises the performance of students in the university. From my experience, students have problems understanding lectures conducted in English and communicating with the lecturers in the language.

In a new environment using a strange language, students lose attention and interest and, eventually, give up on the course.

I have noticed that despite students coming with excellent grades in their pre-university education, many could not score well even in the first semester of their tertiary education.

Academic performance does not depend only on students’ intelligence, but also on their ability to adapt to an unfamiliar environment where everything is delivered in English.

Students’ presentation or viva voce is another key aspect to justify their ability in mastering a language. As a course is conducted fully in English, students usually present their work in English, be it a lab report or a test.

I have encountered many instances where serious grammatical errors, including spelling errors, are detected in their work or during their presentation.

This language problem either distorts or hampers the delivery of an idea by the students. This, in turn, makes it hard for lecturers to grade students’ work because the content is not properly presented. Likewise, the problem occurs in the form of answers provided in exams.

As a young lecturer, I was advised not to penalise students for grammatical errors. But how are we going to judge a situation if storytellers cannot deliver their message accurately using the right language?

Undergraduates suffer not only from their poor soft skills, but also the lack of written English proficiency.

The root cause of the problem could be a poor emphasis on the language in early childhood education. At most educational levels prior to the tertiary level, the chances of learning or even mastering the English language are limited as there is only one English subject in the curriculum.

Despite the Malaysian University English Test (Muet) being a requirement for entering university, English proficiency among undergraduates continues to be poor. News reports have said that local graduates suffer from unemployment because they are not good in English.

By Goh Choon Fu.

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Senior gov’t officers must have strong grasp of English: PM

Wednesday, June 6th, 2018
Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said that top government officers must be competent in the English language. Pix by Rosdan Wahid

PUTRAJAYA: Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said that top government officers must be competent in the English language.

He said senior civil servants must have a strong mastery of English in order to be able to communicate and negotiate capably with foreign parties.

“(In this respect), senior government officers will (henceforth) undergo English competency tests,” he said after chairing the Cabinet meeting today.

Dr Mahathir’s stand on the importance of English as a lingua franca has been consistent, as it was under his leadership in 1996 that the Constitution was amended to allow the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI) in national schools.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Pix by Ahmad Irham Mohd Noor

On a separate issue, Dr Mahathir announced that the entertainment allowance for high-ranking government officials in the Jusa A category and above will be reduced by 10 per cent effective July.

“This is a cost-saving drive by the government,” he said, adding that Malaysia will be sending a team to India to study innovative ideas undertaken by the government there to enhance efficiency in the public services.

Following the first Cabinet meeting held three weeks ago, the prime minister announced a 10 per cent salary cut for Cabinet ministers as part of the government’s austerity drive.


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Language is not taught but caught

Sunday, June 3rd, 2018
Therefore, it is an injustice to expect our children in primary and secondary schools to speak and write impeccable English based on the teaching and learning of the language in school.

THE lack of communication skills in the English language among our young people is not due to their timidity or their upbringing, but due to their linguistic incompetence and lack of confidence.

To communicate in English, students have to be linguistically competent and proficient in it.

Focal knowledge and tacit knowledge are important elements in learning a language.

Focal knowledge can be taught in a formal, codified and explicit manner.

The teaching of grammar and the linguistic system of a language is taught to improve your focal knowledge and competence. It equips learners with rules and steps to follow to produce language.

Tacit knowledge is a class of knowledge that is difficult to teach and communicate to learners.

It is the unwritten, unspoken and hidden storehouse of knowledge on language learning that is based on people’s emotions, experiences, insights, intuition and information.

Tacit knowledge is a class of knowledge that is difficult to communicate.

It is the knowledge that we have without knowing we know it.

The majority of our children come from rural and remote areas.

With their limited exposure to the language outside the language classroom, these children are impoverished in their English language competence and performance.

Thought they may be linguistically competent in knowing the rules and order of the language, they may not be able to communicate due to their lack of communicative performance and opportunities.

Therefore, it is an injustice to expect our children in primary and secondary schools to speak and write impeccable English based on the teaching and learning of the language in school.

Children who acquire the language come from English-speaking homes or from an English- speaking background.

It is impossible to master any language without practice and usage outside the classroom.

During the Malaysian University English Test speaking test, examiners find pre-university candidates grappling with the English language

Therefore, it is not surprising that most graduates lack soft and communication skills in English during their job interviews

Learning the language needs active participation, interaction and exposure to the language.

The students should be given an environment where they can practise the language.

Short-term measures and knee-jerk reactions will not be able to fill this void

Long-term measures require the Education Ministry to consult parents, teachers, Parent Action Group for Education and education groups to review and revise their policies on English teaching and learning.

We need English language immersion programmes that equip learners with focal and tacit knowledge.


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Producing an internationally recognized English qualification

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018
Education Minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid (second from left) witnessing Cambridge English Language Assessment Research and International Development head Dr Hanan Khalifa (right) delivering the certificate of recognition to Malaysian Examinations Council chairman Professor Datuk Seri Dr Mohamed Mustafa Ishak. With them is Education director-general Datuk Dr Amin Senin.

THE Malaysian University English Test (MUET) is a step closer to becoming an internationally-accepted English qualification for university entry, following the recognition of being aligned with the Common European Framework Reference (CEFR) by the Cambridge English Language Assessment (CELA), a department of the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

Education Minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid said with the alignment with CEFR, the Malaysian Examinations Council (MEC) could push MUET into the international market as a product in the likes of TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and IELTS (International English Language Testing System).

“MUET is the brainchild of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak when he was education minister, and it has been implemented for the past 20 years, used for university admissions in Malaysia,” said Mahdzir.

With this new development, he said, several countries, such as Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka, had shown interest in using MUET for their students.

MEC, in 2014, had collaborated with CELA to have MUET benchmarked against the European framework to determine if the test matched the standards outlined in CEFR.

Upon completing the study, CELA was engaged to help and advise the MUET Test Syllabus and Specification Aligning Committee to ensure that the English test matched the European framework and would be accepted internationally.

CELA Research and International Development head Dr Hanan Khalifa said there were five stages an examination needed to go through to align it with CEFR.

“We’ve already done the first and second stage for MUET last year, whereby the first was familiarisation of CEFR and the second was where we looked into how reading, listening, speaking and writing are defined in the test,” she said.

“We are working on standardisation, as well as training and benchmarking by the middle of the year. And then, standard setting and validation by year-end.”

On the challenges for MUET to gain recognition as a global qualification like IELTS and TOEFL, she said: “There really isn’t a process and there is no one to give you a stamp.

“For example, IELTS have been around since 1979. But, it gained recognition around the world year-on-year. So, it takes time before an examination is recognised internationally.”

On how best Malaysia could leverage interest from other countries to implement MUET as an entry test, she said: “First, you need to show that the test is of excellent quality. MEC is working on that and we are helping them out.

“And, I think you need to run a campaign with the objective of creating awareness of what MUET is and the process that it has gone through for validation and alignment.

“MUET, or any exam that is considered high stakes, would need to undergo continuous improvements. So, we cannot say we have revised it and stop there. It has to continuously improve.

“But, that does not mean changing it every year. Usually, the revision cycle is eight to 10 years. You need to make sure that year-on-year, the results are using criterion references, are fair, valid and reliable. That’s what MEC needs to show year-on-year for MUET.”

Geraldine Anne Nathan with her plaque and certificate for Best student MUET 2017.

Mahdzir and Hanan had earleir attended the Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran Malaysia (STPM) best schools and best students award ceremony in Putrajaya.

At the event, MEC chairman Professor Datuk Seri Dr Mohamed Mustafa Ishak received the MUET recognition certificate from Hanan and was witnessed by Mahdzir.

Three STPM students were recognised as best performers in MUET last year.

Among them was Geraldine Anne Nathan, a science stream student who did her Form 6 at Kolej Tingkatan Enam Sri Istana in Klang, Selangor. She scored Band 6 in the MUET 2017 July session.

Making the effort to speak in English with friends and family, going through exam revision books and sample essays, and doing exercises were among her key preparations for MUET, she said.

“For me, the most challenging part of MUET is Section A of writing, where a graph is given to be analysed and elaborated on. When we did this section in class, I always had the tendency to give my own opinion in my own words rather than use the facts presented in the graph. So, I had a little trouble with that bit. Before the exam, I went through my MUET books just for that section alone,” she shared.

The other two recipients are top scorers Thillak Sekaran of Kolej Matrikulasi Melaka in Masjid Tanah, Melaka, for the MUET 2017 March session and Wayne Ho Xiun Liang of SMK Datuk Patinggi Haji Abdul Gapor in Kuching, Sarawak, for the MUET 2017 November session. Thillak and Ho were not able to attend the ceremony.


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Wanted – English coaches to bring out the best in our students.

Monday, February 26th, 2018

PETALING JAYA: A nationwide language coaching programme is being mooted to boost students’ command of English.

The Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE) is hoping to assemble a “dynamic team” of coaches to improve the proficiency of the country’s 300,000 primary and secondary school students.

The group’s chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahman said it wants a robust English coaching programme to guide and inspire targeted students to become confident listeners, speakers, readers and writers of English.

So, all coaches must be a “proficient user” based on the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) benchmark.

As a first step, an online survey to gauge the public’s interest in participating was recently launched.

The survey, she said, would show if qualified people were willing to coach small groups of students so that every child is given the opportunity to be proficient in the language and pursue his full potential.

“We understand teachers need help with the weakest of students,” she told Sunday Star. “So, we’re gauging to see if the public is willing to help for a nominal fee under a semi-voluntary arrangement.”

She said if the response was promising, a proposal would be presented to the Education Ministry.

“If we can show that the exercise is sustainable, we hope the ministry can create a budget for it,” she said, adding that PAGE would capitalise on the expertise of remedial models used in other countries.

The plan, she said, was to run the programme in a few pilot schools to test its feasibility.

To participate, log on to

Noor Azimah said the public has been concerned and critical of the low level of English language taught in schools.

“Over 50% of fresh graduates are unemployed because of their poor command of the language and their weak communication skills,” she said.
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Building capacity to increase English proficiency

Wednesday, February 7th, 2018
The roundtable in session. In the front row (from left) are Supyan Hussin, Ganakumaran Subramaniam, Zuraidah Mohd Don, Siti Bahijah Bakhtiar and Nor Faridah Abd Manaf.

There has been a lot of concern for a long while now on whether Malaysian graduates and school-leavers have the English language proficiency levels that will enable them to compete in a globalised world where trade and commerce are mostly carried out in English and academic research findings are largely authored in the language.

Two years ago, the Ministry of Education (MOE) launched the Roadmap for English Language Education in Malaysia spanning 2015 to 2025 to align the standard of English taught in schools and institutions of higher learning with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) — an international standard that focuses on producing learners who can communicate and interact in any language, in this instance, English.

The roadmap takes a cohesive approach where the English language curriculum, teaching and learning process and materials, and teacher training are integrated. With an emphasis on the ability to communicate, CEFR spells out the learning outcomes/skills (e.g. understand, read, write, communicate) students should attain at every stage of learning and puts the student, teacher and parent on the same page where expectations and results are concerned.

While the focus on the alignment with CEFR standards has been very much school-based, Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh, in his 2018 mandate, proposed that the Malaysia English Assessment (MEA) be CEFR-aligned and integrated into the communication component of the iCGPA in public universities.

This move underlines the fact that where English language education is concerned, there is a themed continuum from preschool to tertiary studies.

Textbooks form one of the core components of an education curriculum.

To accelerate efforts to elevate the standard of English in schools, MOE announced the introduction of foreign textbooks in English language classes at public schools starting this year as part of its initiative to align the English language curriculum with CEFR standards. This move involves those from preschool, Years One and Two pupils, and Forms One and Two students .

While some — politicians, teachers and parents — opposed the move due to a multitude of reasons, there are also those who strongly feel that this initiative will enhance English language proficiency.

Issues such as the content not being culturally suitable for students in rural areas especially and lack of consultation with stakeholders like teachers and parents on the use of such textbooks were raised. Some also pointed out that the abrupt decision by the ministry may not augur well.

Superminds, the CEFR-aligned textbook used by preschoolers, Years One and Two pupils, is published by Cambridge University Press, while Form One and Two students use Pulse 2 published by Macmillan Publishers.

Matter of Contention:

International Islamic University Malaysia’s (IIUM) Department of English Language and Literature organised a recent roundtable discussion to provide a platform for academicians to extrapolate issues from angles as diverse as those from the grass roots, parents, teachers and universities to policy-makers but with an eye on building a constructive effort to address the concerns of all Malaysians effectively.

Professor at Sustainability of Language Science

Professor Supyan Hussin of the Sustainability of Language Sciences Research Centre in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia kicked off the session by sharing the findings of a survey he conducted in October last year via social media which received 727 responses from the public to gauge whether they agree with the move to import textbooks from the United Kingdom to teach English.

Some 64.5 per cent did not agree with the idea of importing foreign books to be used in schools while 25.2 per cent agreed with the move and the rest were not sure.

From the survey results, concerns revolved around the cost (which many believe is too expensive), cultural elements (how foreign elements will affect the way students think and act), credibility of local writers (the country hascredible writers to write textbooks), and whether imported books are compatible with the curriculum.

“Some say it’s not so much the textbooks but whether teachers are able to use them to teach,” said Supyan, adding that a curriculum is designed with an education philosophy in mind and, in the case of Malaysia, materials must be in line with the National Education Philosophy.

“Based on the National Education Philosophy, we should conduct needs analysis and address the requirements of the Z and Alpha generations. The books need to fulfil the learning objectives for specific lessons. Delivery is tested and student assessments are conducted to see whether the outcomes match the objectives. Then we decide whether to adopt or adapt. That’s how we select materials for teaching and learning,” he added.

Malaysian English Language Teaching Association president Professor Ganakumaran Subramaniam, who is also the Asia Teaching English as a Foreign Language vice-president and School of Education head at the University of Nottingham Malaysia, said that textbooks alone cannot improve waning standards of English in schools.

Other elements that come into play include teacher competence; the learning environment in terms of context and opportunities to use the language; teaching strategies comprising methodologies, strategies and activities; a carefully thought-out developmental syllabus; student motivation; and learning-related matters such as personality, readiness, learning styles and strategies.

Like Supyan, Ganakumaran said textbook suitability should be measured by its compliance with the National Education Philosophy and aligned with the English curriculum goals; English Language Teaching pedagogical consideration; and technical and publication consideration, among others.


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Idris Jusoh: English proficiency of local graduates on the rise.

Monday, February 5th, 2018

JOHOR BARU: English language proficiency among Malaysian graduates from local universities has improved in recent years, says Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh.

The Higher Education Minister said most graduates had achieved better grades on English assessment tests set by the ministry.

He added that findings from the Malaysian English Assessment showed that local university graduates now have more confidence to converse in the language.

“Feedback from industries also shows that the standard of English among our local graduates is getting better,” Idris told reporters during the university and Industry dialogue at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia here Monday (Feb 5).

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Building on a benchmark

Sunday, February 4th, 2018

The English Language Roadmap 2015-2025 uses the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). This year, imported CEFR-aligned English textbooks are being used in schools. And, plans are underway to align the Malaysian University English Test (MUET) with the framework. StarEducate finds out more about the CEFR, and how it can improve our English proficiency.

FOCUSED on teaching, assessment, and assessment-reporting, our Primary School Standard Curriculum (KSSR), and Standard Curriculum for Secondary Schools (KSSM), are based on expected outcomes that indicate progress and success, says Malaysian English Language Teaching Association (Melta) president Prof Dr S. Ganakumaran.

Essentially, both our curriculum, and the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR), are based on learner achievement standards, he explains.

Two months ago, the Malaysia Examination Council announced that efforts were underway to align the Malaysian University English Test (MUET) with the CEFR so that it can be globally marketed especially to international students planning to further their studies in Malaysia.

“The biggest difference between the CEFR and our curriculum is that the KSSR standards are internally set based on the needs of learning a second language in Malaysia, and our success criteria is based on national goals, and expectations.

“On the other hand, the CEFR standards are determined externally based on language-learning research in Europe. These standards allow us to structure what we teach, and assess, to benchmark the progress of our students internationally,” Prof Ganakumaran says.

Launched in 2001, the CEFR, adds Universiti Malaya’s (UM) Faculty of Education senior lecturer Dr Zuwati Hasim, is neither a curriculum, nor a syllabus.

“Why do we need CEFR as a benchmark? What will happen to MUET – the English language competency examination taken by local students as a requirement to enter local public and private universities? If students are in Band 6 of MUET, which is equivalent to C2 of the CEFR, will they be exempted from taking the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), or any other internationally-developed English language test, when they enrol in universities abroad?” she asks.

Calling for a transparent evaluation of the CEFR’s implementation, she says the framework can be used as a form of reference for many different languages – not just English, but it must be an adaption, not an adoption.

Stressing that the framework is a mere guide, she says it can be adapted here if it’s aligned towards the communicative needs of our pupils.

“In Malaysia, English is a second language, not a foreign language. We shouldn’t be aligning our syllabus to the framework by compromising on our learners’ needs,” she feels, adding that the curriculum we’ve had through the years, were impressive and well-developed. Now, it’s about improving what we have.

The KSSR, and KSSM, are in line with the national education principles, and aimed at strengthening unity in a multi-cultural society, she adds.

KSSR was implemented in 2011, replacing the Primary School Integrated Curriculum (KBSR), which was introduced in 1983. The KSSM, which replaced the Integrated Secondary School Curriculum (KBSM), and a revised KSSR, kicked-off last year.

“Imported textbooks are being introduced even before we’ve analysed the effectiveness of the KSSR and KSSM textbooks. Will the CEFR lead to a revamp of the current co-curriculum?” she asks.

It’s important for teachers to be assessed based on the CEFR to show the quality of their proficiency according to an international standard, says Prof Ganakumaran. But, language proficiency – though advantageous, doesn’t necessarily translate to good teaching.

One of the key aims of the CEFR is to address a society that speaks several languages, and is sensitive to the different cultures around them, Dr Surinderpal Kaur, the deputy dean of postgraduate studies at the UM Faculty of Languages and Linguistics, points out. “Like Europe, Malaysia isn’t a monogamous culture. But the CEFR isn’t prescriptive – it tells you to modify the benchmark to suit your cultural context, not how to do it.”

European countries use the CEFR for many different languages as a benchmark for communication competency. This international benchmarking is very important because it allows for labour mobility. If correctly interpreted and implemented, the CEFR brings consistency. But it boils down to the training of educators, the materials used, assessment processes, and curriculum developed.

“We’ve to continuously tweak our curriculum which is still very traditional. We need peer-learning, emersion in digital technology, and critical thinkers who can apply their knowledge to solve problems.

“Aligning everything to the CEFR won’t be of much use if we don’t open up our curriculum. You can’t have your own benchmark for the SPM, then expect students to sit for the CEFR-aligned MUET at varsity. The benchmark must be consistent from primary level.”

Most European countries piloted their CEFR-aligned teacher-training, materials and assessments, when they started. This is necessary to iron out the kinks, she says.

“Once we’ve done that for English, the template we’ve created can be used for other languages like Bahasa Malaysia.”

Teachers, she adds, are crucial because if they don’t understand the CEFR, and the aims behind it, we won’t get far. She suggests:

> Improving teacher-proficiency in line with the CEFR;

> Ensuring that teacher-trainers know the CEFR well, can communicate it effectively, and are able to help teachers make sense of the teaching materials;

> Introducing a platform for teachers to share their best practices;

> Organising workshops for trainers and teachers; and

> Having townhalls to reach out to the community.

Dr Surinderpal calls for parents, teachers, teacher-trainers, and students, to be treated as equal stakeholders in the learning of English.

“Use lay terms. Reach out to the public. They must know what the Education Ministry is doing, and how it’s being done. Show the step-by-step progression, and address their concerns along the way.”

Dr Zuwati, who’s also a teacher-trainer, believes in empowering teachers.

Currently, only selected teachers are trained in the CEFR-aligned syllabus and textbooks. And, they’re expected to train their colleagues. The message, she says, can get lost in translation. She worries about the impact this would have on the implementation of the CEFR.

To fully benefit from the CEFR, you have to implement it properly, and not rush into superficial solutions, says Cambridge Assessment English (policy, projects and partnerships) director Dr Hanan Khalifa.

Part of the University of Cambridge, the not-for-profit organisation is dedicated to helping people learn English. It has been involved in the development of the CEFR for over 30 years.

“It’s tempting to take short cuts, but these don’t give you the improvements which a carefully implemented programme can give you.

“So it’s great that the Education Ministry is taking so much care in using data to align the curriculum, assessment, and learning materials, to the CEFR. This will ensure that they really deliver the skills which pupils need,” says Dr Hanan.

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